Day 127: f-words

Not the F-word; F-words.

I noticed idly, the other day, because I happened to be updating my c.v., that a lot of my published works contain f-words in the title. For example: forging, figures, flimsy, fiction. I also noticed that the concepts denoted by those words have something in common. They all denote something insubstantial.

Once I had noticed that, I kept thinking of more f-words in the same vein.

Fillip, flippant, folly, floss, flotsam, flight, float, feign, factitious, frivolous, fussy, flibbertigibbet, fallacious, fake, false, fantastic, fancy, fluff, feint, faint, fart, flake, flatulent, fabulous, froth, fairy, fizz, film, fop, flap, frill, filigree, fly, fan, felicitous, and perhaps my favorite of all, faff.

Another f-word is fun.

It’s a word I hear a lot in a particular context. Quite often, when I tell people about my second book project, they declare, warmly, “that sounds fun!” My second book is about the metaphors that eighteenth and early nineteenth-century writers associate with absorptive reading. The figures I focus on are admittedly whimsical; one of them, for example, is the flying carpet.

It would be rather perverse of me to insist, I realize, that flying carpets, as a subject, are not fun. Fun you say? No fun to be found here. Very serious business, flying carpets.

But still, whenever I hear that particular f-word being applied to my research, what I hear happening is a variation of the dynamic I’m interested in in my book. The flying carpet chapter, for example, is about how even as realist fiction disavows enchanted transport as narrative content, criticism embraces enchanted transport as a conceit for describing narrative effects. In other words, flying carpets aren’t in eighteenth-century novels, but they are in the language that critics use to describe the experience of reading them.

Likewise, when people say my topic sounds fun, I think what they mean is that they imagine that the subject of the book attaches to the labor of studying them. I am genuinely not sure if this is true. Is searching for representations of flying castles actually more fun that searching for instances of, I don’t know, representations of paving stones, or some other more pedestrian kind of object? On the one hand, it might seem obvious that the answer is “yes!” On the other hand, as a scholar, my favorite parts of Robinson Crusoe are the “boring” bits! (With apologies to Paul K. Anonymous for calling any part of Crusoe boring.)

On the other, third, hand, it’s not as though content is irrelevant to what makes something fun. For example, one of my ideas of fun is to look up rude words in the OED. The reason why it’s fun is definitely because of the contrast between the juvenile, transgressive language, and the sometimes prim, always deadpan lexicographical commentary. This statement for example, precedes the entry for “fart”: Not in decent use.

Of course, not all f-words are arty-farty-airy-fairy; funicular, for example. That’s a good solid word.

And, of course, there are words beginning with different letters that belong in this semantic field: in the first place, I hear you, dear reader, protesting, “but duck-rabbit, where there is flotsam there is also jetsam!” And you are right! And of course there are many other non f-words in the same vein: silly; dream; gossamer; wisp, and so on and on and on.

But here’s my question: is it actually more likely that f-words will denote these sorts of ideas, and if so, why is it?

I have a vague and probably preposterous theory. My theory is that the f-sound is inherently airy.

Take the expression, “phew!” It is imitative, as the OED notes in its entry for phew, of “the action of puffing or blowing away with the lips.” So could it be that f-sounds naturally attach to actions or things culturally marked as figuratively “airy”?

Or is this just a fuckload of fuckwind? [1]



[1] So, “fuckwind” is, in fact, a real word. Implausibly, it’s the name of a bird. (???). My preferred etymology would be that it is a term of abuse for a person given to a baroque flights of fancy, and that it is inspired by a story about an epic monologue by Byron that ended with the infamous words, “on my honour, I will fuck the wind tonight, that whore!” But the real origin of the word is almost equally appealing. The OED says, “Origin uncertain; perhaps fuck v. + wind n.” Gee, thanks OED! A compound of fuck and wind! Genius, that! But then, the entry goes on to say—and I can’t explain why this is funny, I can only affirm that it is—“Compare earlier windfucker n. and discussion in W. B. Lockwood Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names (1993) at windfucker n.”



5 thoughts on “Day 127: f-words

  1. Paul K. Anonymous says:

    Flabbergasted at first sight of BORING applied to any part of ROBINSON CRUSOE, I was about to fly into another of my fatiguing fits of flagellating the perp with another fulsome verbal flaying.. But I noticed the offending word is tucked inside quotation marks to show (or at least feign) that nothing in ROBINSON CRUSOE is really boring to a fit reader. No need therefore to apologize. Flak has been fended off (for now, anyway).

  2. Paul K. Anonymous! My fast friend! I have felt keenly the absence of your first-rate comments and am quite frantic with joy that you have once again seen fit to bestow your favor upon my flimflam. 🙂

  3. FUNNY.

    So in the funniness book, I’ve got a chapter on Haywood’s “flights of fancy,” or what Richardon sniffily called her “unnatural flights.” And also ancient Roman flying penis amulets. All as figures of what I call “flamboyant fictionality.” Thus, the F question is blowing my flipping mind. (Maybe we should trade “flying fictions” chapters at some point??)

    • Ooh ooh ooh! I would LOVE to read that chapter! And, as this post indicates, I am finally, after a long period of faffing, getting back to thinking about my second book. We must def exchange work — looking forward to it!

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